Israeli limits on Gaza aid may be ‘war crime’, UN warns

Restricting aid could be seen as using starvation as a ‘weapon of war’, the UN’s human rights chief says.

Palestinians gather to receive aid outside an UNRWA warehouse as Gaza residents face crisis levels of hunger, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City March 18, 2024. REUTERS/Mahmoud Issa TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Palestinians gather to collect aid in Gaza City [Mahmoud Issa /Reuters]

Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip may amount to a “war crime”, the United Nations human rights chief says.

The appraisal on Tuesday followed the release of a UN-backed report that said famine is likely by May in the besieged Palestinian enclave of 2.3 million people unless fighting in the more than five-month war between Israel and Hamas is brought to an end and aid shipments swiftly increased.

“The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said.

His spokesperson, Jeremy Laurence, told reporters in Geneva that the final determination of whether “starvation is being used as a weapon of war” would be determined by a court of law.

“The suffering of the people of Gaza is unconscionable,” he said.

While aid agencies blame Israel for the crisis due to its blockade of Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government says it is facilitating supplies. Israel claims the UN and relief groups are at fault for the quantity and pace of aid deliveries.

“Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation to ensure the provision of food and medical care to the population commensurate with their needs and to facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations to deliver that assistance,” Turk said in a statement delivered by his spokesperson.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released on Monday said malnutrition and food shortages have probably exceeded famine levels in northern Gaza and hunger-linked death rates were likely to do so soon.

The war has left roughly half of Palestinians in Gaza – about 1.1 million people – experiencing “catastrophic” hunger, the report warned.

Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva that the agency feared that without action, “you’re looking at more than 200 people dying from starvation per day.”

Turk said the crisis was “human-made” and “entirely preventable”.

“Everyone, especially those with influence, must insist that Israel acts to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of needed humanitarian assistance and commercial goods to end starvation and avert all risk of famine,” he said.

“There needs to be full restoration of essential services, including the supply of food, water, electricity and fuel.”

Oxfam also released a report on Monday, accusing Israel of using bureaucracy to “deliberately” hinder aid supplies headed into Gaza.

It said aid trucks are waiting an average of 20 days to access the enclave.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies